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Clothes Compressors - Do They Work?
A real-world test shows what you can expect from a compression system
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• Packing Resources
• How I Travel in Europe

If you're from my generation, you know that packing was something mom did, but dad had a crucial role in the process--he's the one who sat on the suitcase to compress its contents down to a size which allowed the latch to close.

But high tech has come to the rescue. You no longer need a large and willing father--well, not for sitting on suitcases anyway.

Today we're testing the Eagle Creek Pack-It Compressor, although you can probably apply our quantitative results to just about any compression system.

The Test

First, let's take a gander at the test setup below. You'll see a stack that consists of three tee shirts, one polo shirt, a pair of heavy trousers, a pair of shorts, three pairs of colorful boxers, and three pairs of socks. This is about half of what I'd take to Europe if I were staying a month. On the right is the Compressor Bag. It is the smaller of a set of two bags that comes as a set and has a list price of $20.

 

Pack-it compressor bag picture
My colorful wardrobe on the left, the Pack-It compressor bag on the right

Below is the pile of clothes all stacked up pretty nice. Around 6 inches nominal height without compression.

Six inches - not bad

The bag is much like a reinforced zip-lock, consisting of a heavy closure you use after you put the clothes in the bag. But the key to the whole deal are the little airlocks on the other side of the bag; they allow air to exit, but don't let it back in.

 

The compression locks are the white boxes - air exits here and isn't allowed back in.

So you carefully nudge your clothes inside (which isn't as easy as it sounds, they don't just slip in there), close the zip latch, and start rolling the whole thing up. You have to lean on it here--this isn't a job for wimps, especially if you've got a lot of clothes in a big bag. You'll hear tortured air emitting from the compression locks. Make sure you squeeze the air out of everything, especially the unfilled corners of the bag. When you release nothing should move--your clothes should be wrapped like a snail shell and feel almost as hard. You'll have to use a fair amount of strength just to flatten the rolled-up package if you do it right.

 

compressed clothes picture The little snail roll of our clothes. The package is hard as a rock and pretty completely devoid of air.
compressor bag picture Here it is after we've unwadded the whole thing, all compressed and flat. Pretty slick, eh?

Results

In rolling the bag up to compress it, you'll probably disturb your fine stacking job. But our six inch stack of clothes compressed down to 3.5-4 inches. Now, I'm figuring that your overloaded suitcase will compress stuff a bit, especially if Dad sits on it. So our 6" stack would probably have been compressed to around 5" by the suitcase alone. Still we've gained 20-30% more space by compressing.

Wrinkles?

You might expect the clothing you've just smashed up inside a plastic bag to come out thoroughly wrinkled after a while. We've found only moderate wrinkling during short trips, certainly no more than you'd expect when your clothes have withstood the baggage handling of an overseas trip. As a final test I left the clothes compressed in the bag through four hot, California days and there weren't even enough wrinkles to photograph. I'm impressed.

But the advertised compression I've read is much higher!

Yeah, I know. But read the fine print. They're throwing towels and sweaters in the stack. Those things compress down pretty nicely; sweaters work by isolating air around your body, so when you squeeze it out you get a pretty small garment size. But I wanted our test to be a worst-case scenario using clothes people pack during the summer months. If you're going skiing, this thing would work wonders.

You can find the Pack-It compressor along with other Pack-It products on the Eagle Creek Web site. Single bags and assortments are available.

I'd recommend this product. I'm going to use one for sure this summer, and I'll report on its use in the field. I suspect it'll be great for dirty clothes that you just want isolated from your clean stuff.

Update: Three readers have commented about this product. One recommended it highly. The other, a backpacker, warned against using the bag to store all your clothing on a long backpacking trip--"my clothes started to smell like plastic, which was definitely not pleasant. And of course, if you're not washing your clothes more than once every few weeks (as backpackers are want to do), any strange odors on one garment mysteriously migrate to all the others." Another user warns that you can pack so much stuff that you might exceed the weight limits of you baggage. Check your airline to make sure.

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